In Greek and Roman mythology, Psyche was a princess of such stunning beauty that people came from near and far to admire her. In turning their adoration toward Psyche, however, they neglected to worship the goddess Aphrodite*. Jealous that so much praise was flowing to a mortal girl, Aphrodite decided to punish Psyche.
The goddess summoned her son Eros (also known as Cupid), the god of love, and told him to make Psyche fall in love with some ugly, mean, and unworthy creature. Eros prepared to obey his mother's wishes, but when he laid eyes on the beautiful Psyche, he fell in love with her.
Eros asked Apollo* to send an oracle to Psyche's father, telling him to prepare his daughter for marriage. He was to send her to a lonely mountain, where an ugly monster would meet her and take her for his wife. Full of sorrow for his daughter but afraid of making the gods angry, Psyche's father obeyed.
While Psyche stood on the mountain, Zephyrus, the god of the west wind, sent a breeze to pick her up and carry her to a beautiful palace in a valley. When Psyche entered the palace, a friendly voice guided her around, and invisible attendants waited upon her and fulfilled her every need.
That night and on the nights that followed, Eros came to Psyche in the darkness of her bedroom and made love to her. Psyche could not see Eros in the darkness, but he told her that he was her husband. He also warned Psyche not to ask his identity and never to look at him. Psyche grew to love her unseen husband, but she felt very lonely.
When she asked if her sisters might visit, Eros reluctantly agreed. Her sisters admired her palace and life of luxury, but when they discovered that Psyche had never seen her husband, they told her that he must be a monster and might kill her. They convinced her to take a knife and lamp to bed with her.
When Eros fell asleep that night, Psyche lit the lamp and prepared to stab her husband. But instead of a monster, she saw the handsome god of love. Startled, she let a drop of hot oil from the lamp fall on Eros. He awoke, realized that Psyche knew his identity, and flew away. Psyche fainted. When she awoke, the palace had vanished, and she found herself alone in a strange country.
oracle priest or priestess or other creature through whom a god is believed to speak; also the location (such as a shrine) where such words are spoken
underworld land of the dead
Psyche wandered the countryside searching for Eros. Finally she asked Aphrodite for help, and the goddess gave her a set of seemingly impossible tasks. With the help of other gods, however, Psyche managed to sort a roomful of grain in one night and gather golden fleeces from a flock of sheep. For the final task, Aphrodite told Psyche to go the underworld and bring back a sealed box from Persephone*. Psyche retrieved the box and on her way back, overcome by curiosity, peeked inside it. The box released a deep sleep, which overpowered her.
* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.
immortal able to live forever
By this time Eros, could not bear to be without Psyche. He flew to where she lay sleeping, woke her, and took her to Olympus*, where Zeus* commanded that the punishment of Psyche cease and gave permission for the lovers to marry. Zeus then gave Psyche a cup of ambrosia, the food of the gods, which made her immortal.